A People-Centred Theory of Change for ICT4D?
In a previous post I suggested that a starting-point for a theory of change for (open) ICT4D might be, 'the application of human agency + human knowledge + (open) technology to solve human problems = (open) development', or at its most basic:
people + knowledge + technology = development
This definition has the advantage of putting people (and therefore human agency) at the centre of the equation, but of course it raises as many questions as it answers, including which people?, whose knowledge?, what do we mean by technology?, and what constitutes 'good development' anyway?. So let's take a look at them in turn to see this helps us to improve this rudimentary theory of change:
On the 'which people?' question it seems clear that firstly, it should be the intended beneficiaries (not foreign 'experts') who are the primary authors, architects and principal actors in any ICT4D initiatives, and that secondly, such initiatives must prioritise building people's informational capabilities to make effective use of ICTs to produce development that they have reason to value. If we accept Kentaro Toyama's maxim that ICTs can only amplify existing capacity and intent, then logically ICT4D initiatives must make much greater investments in building the capacity and critical capabilities of excluded groups ahead of applying technology.
The "whose knowledge?" question is also crucial. As Duncan pointed out in his post "The Revolution will NOT be in Open Data", "Knowledge is what you know. It’s the result of information you’ve consumed, your education, your culture, beliefs, religion, experience – it’s intertwined with the society within which you live". If your cultural, religious or educational experience has taught you that you that people like you should 'know your place' and suffer in silence, then that given 'knowledge' can be a powerful obstacle to your self-development. Development initiatives can effectively tackle these obstacles by including activities that provide access to alternative information and which build critical consciosuness. Participant groups can discuss their own experience, analyse the root causes of their social circumstances, and determine ways that they can act collectively to secure socially just development. When people's critical agency is enhanced in this way, alongside their collective intent to act for change, there's no question that technology can amplify this capacity and intent.
Whilst there has been plenty of showcasing of top tech initiatives there has been relatively little discussion about exactly what we mean by 'technology'. The 'T' is perhaps the most taken-for-granted element in the whole ICT4D equation?
Most dictionaries offer two standard defintions of technology; 'technology as product' and 'technology as process':
(a) machinery & devices
(b) the application of knowledge for practical purposes
In regular conversation we are usually referring to technology as a product or physical device, but from a development perspective it's the concept 'technology as process' that is most appropriate. Yet even the dictionary's definition of 'technology as process' fails to mention people. Of course brevity is of the essence in dictionary definitions, but there can be no process without people. It is humans' transformational agency that determines the 'practical purposes' of technology and of development. For this reason I prefer this slightly expanded definition of technology:
Technology = the application of human agency, knowledge and tools to solve human problems
I especially like this definition because it is neatly interchangeable with this definition of development:
Development = the application of human agency, knowledge and technology to solve human problems
For me, the point here is two-fold, that there is no development without technology (by definition) but also that no development should be technocentric. People always have, and always will, make use of appropriate(d) technologies in their efforts to improve their lives. Indeed no social, economic or human development has ever been achieved without the application of technology of some kind. However, as Ken Banks has argued, it's an 'inconvenient truth' that much ICT4D centres around top-down, 'technology as solution' models.
A less technocratic and more people-centred ICT4D process would need to improve people's sense of agency and critical capabilities to analyse their own social circumstances and to address the root causes of injustice, and would need to increase people's capabilities to effectively use technology to define and bring about the development (ends and means) that they have reason to value.
As a theory of change that might read something like, enhancing the agency and critical consciousness and informational capabilities of marginalised people to produce new knowledge and effectively use technology to resolve self-determined problems = socially just development - or in the form of a theory of change equation:
people's agency + critical consciousness + informational capabilities + appropriate(d) technology = just development
Do you think that this is an improvement on people + knowledge + technology = development ?
What is still missing or just plain wrong here?